Eating with others breaks down barriers and builds trust

Written by Karla Hein

It was only an Oreo. A microscopic crumb in all buffet choices I’ve made. The memory lingering like the nonedible cookies collecting somewhere in my computer. I didn’t even eat this particular Oreo either, but I wish I had. I’ve regretted it ever since. 

I was young, probably on the verge of my teenage years. My family had arrived at a summer Bible camp where my dad would be the week’s chapel speaker, and I was assigned a cabin to join while we were there. I was shy and insecure in a new place with girls I had never met. I watched them chatter and bounce around the cabin. I can still picture the room, see faces, and feel my uncertainty. 

Then, a package of Oreos magically appeared from a young girl’s suitcase. She began sharing the chocolatey icon with her cabinmates. 

“Want one?” she offered to me. 

I did want one. What a treasure that store-bought cookie looked compared to my non-processed diet! But instead, I shook my head no. Was I too nervous? Afraid to eat her gift? Guilty of eating cookies before the dinner bell rang? 

Looking back, I don’t remember what inspired my refusal. But I do remember my regret. My polite refusal had created a distinction between the group of Oreo consumers and me, a solitary abstainer. I had said no to her gift freely given and missed out on what she had been trying to offer me, the gift of being included. 

Yet I’m thankful for the lesson I began to learn that day. I started noticing the nonverbal communication of food. The times I declined someone’s generosity I sensed that I ended up declining more than simply the food. 

I don’t know what it is about the whole “breaking bread together” thing, but I decided to add an informal line into my personal code of conduct: As much as is possible, say yes to a new friend’s offer of shared food. 

When a friend with a limited income offered fresh fruit while we visited, I allowed my children to have a piece. When an immigrant woman gave me a box of chocolates, I accepted. Small offers, but if they pave a pathway to friendships, then I choose to say yes.

I want to influence people to love Jesus, and that takes intentionality. If sharing food equals sharing in people’s lives, then that’s what I’ll do. 

Now that I think about it, I remember another yes. It was a skeptical yes. A young fellow from my church offered to buy my coffee, and I agreed. The result? Now, I’m the one who shares food. Every day I take time to prepare a meal and call my family to the table. That yes began a friendship that eventually led to our marriage. 

That yes also meant accepting sticky Cheerios from grubby little fingers shoving them into my mouth. “You need to learn to share,” I chanted over and over to my greedy little preschoolers. When they voluntarily offered me one of their prized treats, I grimaced and swallowed down the object lesson. I’m teaching sharing, not only to quell selfishness, but to teach that the way to have friends is by showing oneself friendly—whether through accepting half-eaten Cheerios or brand-name chocolate cookies.